Thursday, December 26, 2013

Officials say suit threatened district, cost millions

Montague water officials assert their district had to settle an environmental group's lawsuit over Dwinnell Dam or risk closing its doors, and that the lawsuit ended up costing the community more than $2 million.

From the Montague Water Conservation District, issued late Monday:
MWCD is pleased to announce that on December 20, 2013 it settled a lawsuit brought by the Klamath Riverkeeper and Karuk Tribe in 2012 regarding coho salmon in the Shasta River. The Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe sued the Montague Water Conservation District (MWCD) in 2012 alleging violations of the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) for take of threatened Coho salmon within the Shasta River watershed, a major tributary to the Klamath River. MWCD denies that it violated the ESA. In fact, MWCD maintains its past and future operations provide substantial benefits to the fisheries in the watershed.

MWCD owns and operates several irrigation diversions within the Shasta River watershed including its storage facility, Lake Shastina. MWCD is the largest irrigation district in the Shasta Valley providing water to over 220 agricultural operations producing pasture and hay as well as municipal water to the City of Montague.

Conflict between the water needs of agricultural production and those advocating for increased instream cold water habitats has been an issue in the Shasta Valley for many years, largely centering around the extensive cumulative irrigation diversions that may impact cold water habitats for Coho salmon.

MWCD is pleased that the terms of the settlement agreement are consistent with the long established conservation objectives that the district has long been promoting and implementing. In 2006 MWCD and other proactive agricultural operators in the Scott and Shasta Rivers attempted to acquire ESA coverage for incidental take of Coho salmon through standard agricultural operational activities in exchange for collectively protecting, expanding and enhancing Coho salmon habitat. This was a community and agency supported effort intended to protect fishery resources while also preventing legal challenges against proactive family farms. However, this effort was thwarted by environmental groups, including Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe, that successfully sued in 2011to prevent the implementation of the fully developed program. MWCD found it extremely disheartening to then be sued by the very entities that eliminated a locally developed program for not having the take coverage that program would have provided.

Terms of the recent settlement include interim objectives of increased water releases from Lake Shastina to the Shasta River and additional by-pass flows on Parks Creek, a major tributary to the Shasta River. MWCD also agreed to install a fish screen on Parks Creek and improve operational infrastructure for release flows from Lake Shastina. MWCD will also develop operational plans and has agreed to pay legal fees for Klamath Riverkeeper and Karuk Tribe totaling $550,000 over six years. Finally, MWCD agreed to continue its efforts to obtain incidental take coverage of Coho salmon.

All told the lawsuit likely cost the community over two million dollars between the three parties. MWCD's annual gross income is between $400,000 - $500,000 annually while Klamath Riverkeeper and the Karuk Tribe’s combined annual gross income exceeds $30 million. The financial reality was that MWCD had to settle the lawsuit or permanently close its doors for the simple fact it could not afford to continue and defend itself in this complex, aggressive lawsuit. MWCD credits the Karuk Tribal Council who eventually empathized with the irrigation district and the citizens of the City of Montague, many whom belong to the Karuk Tribe, and sought ways to find a resolution.

MWCD appreciates the support provided by the community, especially the City of Montague. If it were not for the aid of the community, MWCD would certainly be closed. Still, MWCD has had to lay off all but one of its staff and faces many serious financial challenges as it meets the financial obligations of the settlement terms. While MWCD is financially strained as a result of the legal challenge, it will steadfastly meet the objectives of the agreement, meet the needs of its users, and provide water for the City of Montague. Montague Water Conservation District will not fail.

Finally, MWCD does not promote or hold anger towards the Karuk Tribe. The Karuk Tribe and its members are a critical and vital component of our community and it is the involvement of Tribal Council and their sense of community ultimately made settlement possible. However, it was apparent through this process that the recent financial growth and diversification of the Karuk Tribe has led to actions extending beyond the steady management of the Council.

Signed by the Directors of the Montague Water Conservation District.

1 comment:

  1. Dont hold anger for the karuks, thats a crock , i cant thank of one rancher ,farmer in the shasta valley that feels that way.